Thursday, April 28, 2011

Western Conference Round Two Predictions

Vancouver Canucks (1) vs. Nashville Predators (5)

It will be interesting to see how Vancouver responds from one of the most emotional first round series in a long time. The Canucks were stretched to the limit by the Chicago Blackhawks in a Game 7 overtime and return quickly to face the Nashville Predators. Nashville won it's first ever playoff series in six games over the Ducks. The Predators surprisingly scored 22 goals that series and Pekka Rinne was solid in goal as usual. This series pits two Vezina trophy candidates, Rinne and Roberto Luongo, against each other.

Why the Canucks will win: Maybe a first round scare is exactly what Vancouver needed. The fact that they blew a 3-0 series lead to Chicago and ultimately prevailed in a Game 7 overtime may make this team stronger. The Canucks defense played much better the final two games of the Chicago series and they will difficult offensively for Nashville. The Predators exposed Anaheim's weak defense in round one but will have trouble scoring on the much deeper Canucks blueline.

How Nashville could win: The Nashville Predators proved that they can score goals this postseason and have a very solid third line in Smithson-Spaling-Tootoo which gave the Ducks fits. These forwards among others may be able to disrupt the Sedin twins and Pekka Rinne is capable of stealing a game. Martin Erat will return from injury for Game 1 and Mike Fisher is coming off a series where he registered six points in six games. The Predators have two shutdown defensemen in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter which will log heavy minutes against the Canucks top line.

Prediction: Vancouver in 7

The Canucks are deeper than Nashville on defense and have a couple more playmakers on offense which will make the difference in a very tight series that could go either way. The Canucks may have gotten their wake up call against Chicago and should ride that momentum to the Conference Finals.

San Jose Sharks (2) vs. Detroit Red Wings (3)

This will be the second consecutive season that these two teams have played in round two. Last year the Sharks won in five games with three of those games that the Sharks won being decided by one goal. Last season the Red Wings came into the series after an exhausting seven game battle with Phoenix. They enter this series on a nine day break after sweeping the Coyotes this time. San Jose needed three overtime victories to get by Los Angeles in six games. The Sharks won that series by winning three games on the road where they scored 16 of their 20 goals.

Why the Sharks will win: The San Jose Sharks have more offensive depth than any team in the postseason right now. The Sharks roll out three lines that all have speed and grit which are difficult to stop for 60 minutes. The defense was not particularly strong in the LA series, especially Dan Boyle, but it is a better unit than it showed. Antti Niemi is coming of a series in which he was pulled twice so he will need to rebound and outplay Jimmy Howard if the Sharks are to advance.

How Detroit could win: The Red Wings are battle tested and may have learned something from losing to the Sharks last season. The Wings are also getting healthy and expecting Henrik Zetterburg in the lineup for Game 1. In order to contain the speed of the Sharks the Red Wings will need a big series from Niklas Kronwall and Ruslan Salei, two of the bigger Wings defensemen. The Sharks penalty kill was weak all regular season so Detroit will look to expolit that when they have the man advantage.

Prediction: Sharks in six

San Jose handled the Red Wings easily this regular season and we're still not sold on Detroit's defense being able to contain the Sharks offensively. Look for Niemi to rebound and be the difference in another close series.

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